Roter Schriftzug "Stadtteilbibliothek" auf grauer Hausfassade
1 June 2020

Visiting the Haselhorst District Library

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Berlin-Haselhorst. Some say it’s in the middle of nowhere. Others say they don’t know it. Located in the north-west of the city, the district in Spandau is characterised by buildings from the 1930s and by residential buildings built after the war. You can take a nice walk along the canal through green Haselhorst. That’s when you notice: water everywhere! Haselhorst is located between the Spree, Havel and the Spandau ship canal. And the exciting streets of the capital are not that far away: for example, it’s just 20 minutes on the bus and underground to the “Zoologischer Garten” station.


However, there are also problems in idyllic Haselhorst: according to the “Monitoring Social Urban Development” report, the social situation is tense; there is above-average unemployment, transfer payments and even child poverty. There are families who can’t afford things such as a membership at a sports club. In terms of culture, they are dependent on what the city provides, such as district libraries. We spoke to Gudrun Lex, library manager at Haselhorst district library, about what makes libraries important places – and why the district library in Haselhorst is so well received by residents.

Manager Haselhorst District Library.
Gudrun Lex, library manager of Haselhorst District Library.

Hello Ms Lex. Did you always want to be a librarian?  

No, it was more of a coincidence. I always wanted to be a teacher and I could have studied to do so. I got a place at the university in Kiel, but I would have had to wait a semester to start that. But I wanted to get started straight away after my school-leavers examinations… 

…and you already had a plan B? 

Yes; I had also applied for a training position as a librarian at Berlin’s Freie Universität at the same time. I got this place and started right away. I’ve always found libraries interesting – interesting as a place.  

What makes libraries an interesting place? 

It’s not just a place where you can focus and concentrate, it’s also a hugely social place where a lot happens. 

Can you give us an example? 

This kind of place isenormously , important, especially here in Haselhorst, where there are not many free services – both for older people and for children and young people. Here you don’t have to eat anything, you don’t have to spend anything – especially as money isn’t always readily available here. For example, we offer schoolchildren help with their homework. For everyone else, it is a place where to meet up. A place where you’re not alone.  

Team of the Haselhorst District Library.
The Haselhorst District Library team consists of three colleagues. Grudrun Lex with her colleague Susanne von Lipinski.

What would your dream library look like? 

I think we’re on the right track. In terms of technology, for example, we are doing wonderfully; we work with an interactive smart board, iPads for school classes, tablets for on-site use. The budget is sufficient at the moment and we are able to make good use of the money provided. It hasn’t always been like this. But my dream library would have more space, so that you could, for example, have a separate room for events or for people who really want to work in peace. Unfortunately, this is not possible at our library.

What does the budget depend on? 

A district library is not only about letters, numbers also play a big role! The budget is calculated based on the annual numbers of visitors and loans. The more people come, the more money the library gets. And then you can work with that and decide on good services for visitors. 

What services do you offer? 

We try to offer a wide range of services for different groups. For example, we can press ahead with our focus on language development – and help children to express themselves better. For this purpose, we have various services, such as a picture book cinema combined with a convenient interactive memory. And for school classes, we organise book presentations ourselves or with literary scholars who make reading and books appealing to children – we want to get them excited about the world of letters. We pay for this from our budget, which also gives us some margin to hire external freelancers. Many of our customers want to use the internet; we provide two free places and anyone, young or old, can take advantage of this service for one hour. I also decide in which inventory groups more money is invested and where less based on the evaluation of the lending statistics. I decide where the budget goes, for example, when we order new books or other media. New computers, printers, printer cartridges, etc. are ordered centrally via our district central library.

Inside the Haselhorst district library.
Libraries as public space in the neighbourhood provide educational and cultural services.

What else do you have to look out for as a library manager? 

We must also ensure that we reconcile the different needs of the user groups. For example, a few young people come and want to use WiFi and can be a bit loud – and the others want to read. Sometimes you have to mediate. 

Do you have to intervene a lot?  

No. We don’t want to have to tell people what to do. Fortunately, many things regulate themselves, many have the necessary sense about how to behave in a public space. And if some are a little noisy, they don’t mean any harm. You know how groups behave – when you go out to eat together, you automatically become a bit louder and that’s all part of it. But sometimes you just have to point it out: excuse me, do you want to play music for each other on your smartphones? This isn’t the place for that.  

How has digitalisation impacted libraries? 

It’s had a big impact – and that’s okay. It can be a big asset for everyone involved, you just have to use the new developments properly. I’ll give you an example: when we work with school classes here, we can hold up a book and talk about it – that’s what we used to do. But if we can project the book onto a giant screen, it’s much easier and better to work with and, therefore, much more engaging for children. We work a lot with the smart board and enjoy using the many possibilities. The interaction is great.

Smartboard inside the Haselhorst district library.
Digitalisation and interaction are part of modern library standards.

The number of visitors at this location fell from 2013 to 2016 and then rose rapidly. Why is that? 

It has to do with the fact that this library was hidden in a school. It was being renovated and we had to move. And then the district managed to rent this empty building from Gewobag – and that was a good decision. We are now much more visible, much easier to reach and handicapped accessible. And our team is very good, we fit together – that’s very important when you run a library. We decide what will be on the programme. For Haselhorst, you have to think carefully about what is needed and requested here. For example, we have sorted out lots of old books so that the new ones can be presented better. Presentation makes a big difference; it’s no different from the book trade. We always hope to cater to the tastes of readers here.  

Which books are particularly popular loans? 

I think it’s the same everywhere, whether in Haselhorst or in Pforzheim. When books are made into films, you quickly notice that the books are also in demand at libraries. The best example of this is Harry Potter, even today. And, apart from that, everything on the bestseller list. Thrillers are generally popular, whereas non-fiction books are not read as much.  

Inside the Haselhorst district library.
Haselhorst is the smallest district library in Spandau.

On that note: what are you reading at the moment?  

I’m reading a biography of Hubertus Meyer-Burckhardt right now, which is quick reading. And I’m reading a non-fiction book, “Keim daheim” (a book about germs), which seems fitting.  

Do you have to like reading to work in a library? 

No, but it doesn’t hurt. Then you can advise people better.  

What is your favourite library in the whole world? 

Oh, I think our library is great. We may be the smallest district library in Spandau, but this also has many advantages because we can act quickly in a small team and get things done. I really like it here. This is my favourite library. I like the people from Haselhorst very much.  

What was your very first job? 

Stacking shelves at Meyer.  


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